That’s why I love yoga.
A few days ago, someone asked me why I loved it. I ended up not answering the question, because our attention was quickly diverted by the conversation and we got onto another subject. But if I would have answered in that moment, I would have said that I love yoga because it encompasses multiple aspects of wellness. It’s physical, it’s spiritual, it’s social, and it’s mental. It addresses the individual as a whole, and it’s not just a system of exercise.
And, that is true. I do love yoga for these reasons.
Then, I went to my favorite yoga class yesterday with my favorite teacher. He told me once that I had a beautiful practice, that it was beautiful to watch. This teacher, having come from a fitness background – he comes from the same place as me. So I relate to him. His classes are challenging but fun; engaging but introspective. His class is the first class that I have taken that I am actually disappointed if I miss. Having come from teaching and taking fitness classes for nearly 8 years, that says something.
And I started thinking about why I love yoga so much. I was a marathon runner, but I gave up running nearly completely in September to focus on yoga. My hips and hamstrings could not continue running while also developing the kind of flexibility I was asking of them in yoga. People thought I was crazy. When I tried to explain, no one really understood – and I’m not sure that they will without experiencing it themselves.
But yoga – yoga asks something else of you. When I ran, I ran because I was competitive. My mother ran a marathon and I thought, if my mother – who is 30 years older than me – can run 26.2 miles, I can. And I did. This competitiveness is what fueled my running, and it helped me to be better and stronger and faster.
Unfortunately, that competitiveness was also occurring between my body and my brain. My exercise started because, like all teenage girls, I wanted to look better. After losing 30% of my body weight and having 00 jeans that were too loose, I was probably medically classifiable as anorexic. Every calorie was counted and a disgrace; every calorie burned was a victory. I pulled it together enough to maintain my weight after an illness made the scale read 92 pounds.
And then college. Good old college. I spent the majority of my first two years in the throes of bulimia, trying to find any place in the dormitory world to vomit up my food in private. It was awful. I became a fitness instructor but I carried this horrible guilt around all everywhere I went. I was supposed to be a model for being healthy, but I couldn’t pull it together for myself. I felt so hypocritical.
The battle eased up as I got older and wiser, but the feeling of bodily hatred never really left. The marathons and the long runs were a way to clear my head, but they were also a way to punish my body for anything I had eaten.
Transitioning into yoga – and nothing else regularly – was scary. It doesn’t burn as many calories, it’s not cardiovascular (or rather, it’s not always cardiovascular), it’s the antithesis of what my entire exercise life has been about. But when I step into a vinyasa class and I feel the flow of sun salutations, when I feel my toes lifting off the floor and the lift of my hips as I hop my feet to my hands – I feel free. Instead of hating my body for having tight hamstrings or hips, I have learned to respect my limitations. Instead of hating my body and comparing myself to other people in the room, I can appreciate what my body can do.
Learning to let go of running and my destructive thinking has not been an easy process. But I am a better person because of it.
For the first time in my life, I feel pretty. I feel graceful. I feel strong. And, most importantly, I feel connected. My relationship with God has improved by improving my relationship with myself. I am no longer unappreciative of the gift of life, of my body, of my soul.
And so, if I were to be asked that question again, this would be my answer: I love yoga because it makes me feel pretty. I love yoga because it makes me feel like me.